By RODNEY PAGE
Times Staff Writer
There was a time when private golf clubs had their own unbendable rules. Potential members were either invited by current members and approved by a board of directors, or they had enough money to pay the initiation and monthly dues.
Everybody else played the daily fee courses if they could get a tee time. But things have changed over the past few years. The rules at private clubs have started to bend. Fewer golfers with less discretionary money has meant private clubs have had to adjust.
There are now seasonal memberships at many of the area's private courses. There are "memberships for a day,'' where golfers can test drive a course without signing on the dotted line. And at exclusive courses like The Bayou Club in Largo, they advertise no more initiation fees and a $2,000 joining bonus on their website.
"You do have to be creative,'' Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club membership director Debbie Bowman said. "We don't want to go public. We want to stay private.''
And in order to stay private, many courses are reaching out to the public. St. Petersburg private courses Isla Del Sol, Pasadena Yacht and Tennis Club and St. Petersburg Country Club will continue to offer summer memberships, as they have for the past few years. But there are some new private courses catching on this year.
Cypress Run Golf Club in Tarpon Springs now has summer opportunities and enticements for golfers who want to join year round. Crescent Oaks in Tarpon Springs is offering summer memberships to those who sign up for golf lesson packages. Emerald Greens Golf and Country Club in Tampa is also offering summer memberships for the first time, although it will be capped at 40.
"I think for most people, giving up your cash for initiation fees and such is a tough nut these days,'' said Kellie Sprague, Emerald Greens' membership director. "Our experience as membership directors is that if people try it, then they find they like it.''
Temple Terrace's Bowman has found that to be the case. Last year she said there were 273 summer golf memberships. Bowman claims nearly half of those became full time members. This year they already have 107 new summer members and they may cap it at 250. They have 463 total golf members.
It's a pretty simple business plan. Open up the gates and get new players to try your course at a time when most members aren't playing much anyway.
"A lot of people think private clubs are strictly private, but only about seven percent of private clubs are actually private,'' Sprague said. "Most of us have some kind of program to generate some outside play. Summer is a perfect time to invite potential members to try the club because activities are down due to travel and weather. It's revenue. It's a must.''
Get the revenue and keep the members happy, or turn into a public course. That's what happened at Seminole Lake Country Club in Pinellas County. When the economy started to tank in late 2007, Seminole Lake started to lose members. By the start of 2009, membership dues couldn't pay the bills. The course had to go public.
"It was membership attrition,'' Seminole Lake CC general manager Norm Haglund said. "We were forced into it. It really started in the last period of 2007 where we lost 100 members. I had a guy tell me he got to keep his job, but at 40 percent less salary. Membership was not a saleable option for us by the beginning of 2009. We did what was best for this club and this property.''
Other area private clubs aren't talking about going public. But they are looking to make ends meet during a difficult season for golf courses. The benefactor is the average golfer, who has a chance to check out courses normally off limits.
Here is a look at area private courses offering summer trials:
Course: St. Petersburg Country Club
Cost: $125 single or $160 family initiation fee. $145 single or $180 family monthly dues.
Dates: Through October 31.
Contact: (727) 867-2111.
Course: Isla Del Sol (St. Petersburg)
Cost: $1,000 for unlimited golf, tennis, social and driving range. There are also monthly plans. Food and beverage minimum of $300 applies.
Dates: Through Sept. 30.
Contact: (727) 906-4752.
Course: Pasadena Yacht and Tennis Club
Cost: $1,000 for five months. Unlimited golf (cart fee is $18.50).
Dates: Through Sept. 30.
Contact: (727) 381-7922 ext. 11.
Course: Emerald Greens Golf and Country Club (Tampa)
Cost: Memberships start at $295. No initiation fee until after the summer. It is limited to 40 golf memberships.
Dates: June through August
Contact: (813) 961-1381
Course: Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club
Cost: $39 per month (plus $25 application fee). Play for $18 per round including cart fee.
Dates: Through Aug. 31
Contact: (813) 988-1791
Course: Crescent Oaks Golf Club (Tarpon Springs)
Cost: Plan will not be finalized until June
Dates: Through Sept. 30
Contact: (727) 942-6182
Course: Cypress Run Golf Club (Tarpon Springs)
Cost: 50 percent off dues through September determined by membership choice. Go to www.cypressrun.com for types of membership.
Dates: Through September
Contact: (727) 938-3774